For the dedicated space fans among us, a pilgrimage to Cape Canaveral in Florida to witness a rocket launch is likely on the bucket list. But, for more casual observers of the space race, watching a rocket blast off into the heavens may sound cool, but not necessarily book-a-plane-ticket-to-the-Space-Coast-worthy. Luckily for Northern Virginians, whatever your level of cosmos fandom, there is the occasional chance to see some space action from your own backyard.
With Wallops Flight Facility—located on Wallops Island on the Eastern Shore of Virginia—about 200 miles southeast of the DMV, spotting a rocket taking off is not unheard of. Earlier this year, the first launch of 2020 ascended into the sky on Feb. 15, headed for the International Space Station. The Northrop Grumman Antares rocket sent more than 7,500 pounds of science and research, crew supplies and vehicle hardware to the orbital lab and its crew (plus, we hear, a stash of specifically requested candy and cheese for the three astronauts aboard). The rocket, with its pluming smoke and rocket fuel fire, could be seen about 60 to 90 seconds after launch above certain spots in the Northern Virginia region, says Keith Koehler of NASA.
If you missed it, don’t worry, there have been more than 16,000 launches from Wallops’ space pad since its founding in 1945 and sure to be more. This month, the three astronauts who have been living and working on the space station (which includes Jessica Meir, who made news in October when she was part of the first all-female spacewalk), are scheduled to return to Earth as the next round of space explorers moves in.
So, keep your eyes on the sky, as the Antares rocket will most certainly be launching more supplies into space from Wallops Island. // 32400 Fulton St., Wallops Island
This post originally appeared in our April 2020 print issue. For more cultural reads, subscribe to our newsletters.